What began as a phenomenal road trip has, lately, dwindled down to a memory. After four quick wins and a running start, the Jazz are showing tired legs, fumbling hands and bungling fingers.
Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the Jazz overcame a 16-point deficit, but missed crucial shots down the stretch, losing 101-92 to the Knicks.While Friday night's problem for the Jazz was Michael Jordan, Saturday it was Patrick Ewing and Kiki Vandeweghe. Ewing finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds and Vandeweghe rang up 24 points to lead the Knicks. The Jazz got 34 points and 18 rebounds from Karl Malone, who scored 28 of his points in the second half.
Malone had this to say of the Jazz's performance, "We just didn't get it done . . . All our team needs to do is play at our highest potential and we'll definitely come out on top."
Utah overcame a 16-point deficit to tie the score with 7:20 to go, but never took the lead.
The Jazz pulled to within two with 2:45 to go, but they never got closer again.
Knicks guard Maurice Cheeks scored five points a minute to help the Knicks hold off Utah's late charge.
Trailing 92-88 with 2:10 remaining, Jeff Malone missed a baseline jumper and Mark Eaton a hook shot within a 27-second span. Meanwhile, Cheeks hit an inside shot and followed with a baseline jumper and free throw to put the Knicks ahead 95-88 with 1:05 to go. From there the Jazz could only foul and take desperation shots, in an effort to close the Knicks lead.
However well the Jazz played earlier on their current seven-game road trip - winning four of five going into Saturday's contest - the odds weren't good to come away with a win in New York. In franchise history, the Jazz had only won three of 21 games played there. When the teams met in Salt Lake City in December, New York routed the Jazz, 109-94, behind a command performance by All-Star center Ewing. In that game, Ewing blocked nine Jazz shots, scored 34 points and collected 11 rebounds.
Mark Jackson and Gerald Wilkins came off the bench in that game to score 17 and 19 points, respectively.
But the Knicks haven't been exactly power brokers in their own house. Their 13-18 home record was tied for the second-worst in the league. In recent games they have shown improvement, though, winning six of the previous seven games and seven of 10. That included a five-game win streak, their longest of the season. At home they had won two of the previous three.
Meanwhile, Utah is close to wrapping up its longest road trip of the season - seven games in 11 days. The grind began to show on Friday in a loss to the Bulls, although Sloan wasn't hearing any of it. "That's no excuse," he said. "It's all in your head." But by the time they got to New York for Saturday's contest, they were still struggling.
From the early moments Saturday, it was obvious the Jazz had fallen back into their old road problems. Karl Malone, hounded by Knicks' forward Charles Oakley and center Ewing, only got off eight shots the first half, missing six. John Stockton was 1-4 from the floor in the first 24 minutes. The Jazz made only 39 percent of their first-half shots and were out-rebounded 28-19.
The Jazz fell behind as far as 16 points in the second period. Malone had gone in for a breakaway slam, but ended up throwing it off the back of the rim. The Knicks followed up with an Oakley layup for a 46-30 lead.Malone's awful start continued what has become an uncharacteristic streak of poor games. In Washington and Chicago he was held to back-to-back 19-point performances, almost 10 below his season average. But he, too, refused to use blame fatigue. "That's no excuse," he said.
For the early part of the trip, it appeared travel didn't do anything but improve the Jazz. They opened up with a win over Detroit and followed by consecutive victories over Philadelphia, Orlando and Washington. By the time Friday's game with Chicago was in the mid-third quarter, the Jazz were still bullet-proof, having built a 16-point lead. But the Jazz eventually fell apart with turnovers and erratic defense, losing to the Bulls, 99-89.
Although the Jazz gained from New York's atrocious shooting in the first quarter, they were sluggish from the opening tip, dropping loose balls, missing layups and allowing the Knicks inside for easy shots or rebounds. While the Knicks busied themselves missing 11 of their first 12 shots, the Jazz did nothing to take advantage of it. The score remained close until the Knicks finally began making their shots, going from a four-point deficit to a 28-17 lead.
Predictably, Ewing gave the Jazz problems from the start, scoring nine points and collecting three first-quarter rebounds. But the play of Vandeweghe (10 points in the first quarter) was more than the Jazz could handle. Ewing had 11 points at halftime, Vandeweghe 14.
"We played great defense down the stretch, and hit some clutch shots," Ewing said. "We're playing outstanding ball right now."
Utah picked up where it left off in the second period with Mike Brown missing three straight free throws.
It took just 1:49 for Malone to equal his first-half scoring, once the third quarter began. He scored first on a fast break and followed with four consecutive free throws. Led by Malone, who piled up 20 points in the period, the Jazz cut New York's lead to three points, before ending the period trailing 73-69.
GAME NOTES: Jazz guard Jeff Malone appeared to have re-aggravated a groin injury in Friday's game at Chicago, but he said before the Knicks' game that he was fine . . . Former Ute football coach Jim Fassel attended the game. Fassel is now the quarterbacks' coach for the New York Giants . . . The game was a return home for Jazz forward Dan O'Sullivan, who grew up in the Bronx and played at Fordham.